#61: Leaving MFA, An Interview with Famed Blogger Jordan Younger, by Paul Florez
October 30, 2014
Every year countless writers apply to MFA programs across the country. Those lucky enough to get accepted, embark on a literary journey that encompasses two years of their life.
I first met Jordan Younger when we were assigned as each others writing partner during our first semester at The New School. We became fast friends and Jordan became an integral part of my MFA experience. Quite frankly, I couldn’t imagine the program without her.
The unthinkable happened last semester. Jordan left the program and moved back to Los Angeles. However since then her website, The Balanced Blog, has taken off and she’s made appearances on Good Morning America and The Doctors (among others) promoting her blog and a healthier lifestyle. Recently she secured a book deal with Fairwinds Press and even launched an app based on the blog.
Jordan’s success is remarkable and I found it intriguing it all came to her after she took the leap and left our MFA program.
Jordan, before we get into questions about your MFA experience, I want to ask about your book, Breaking Vegan. This is your first book. Congratulations! Is there any information you can share?
Thank you! The first part of the book is a memoir about my history with food, my dedication to veganism and the eventual spiral downward into my eating disorder. It’s a close firsthand account of orthorexia and the gritty details of my food troubles that I haven’t been able to share on my blog, The Balanced Blonde (Editor’s note: Jordan’s blog was originally called The Blonde Vegan).
The second part of the book is a lifestyle guide toward living a balanced life, body acceptance and living a healthy lifestyle without going overboard. There are 25 recipes in the book and lots of fun lifestyle and food photos. My publisher is Fairwinds Press, a division of Quarto Press, and they have been amazing to work with.
It‘s interesting that you left our program midway through and then secured a book deal. Usually writers go to an MFA program to help get their careers going.
In the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to write a book centered on health and my own health journey but I didn’t know the opportunity would come up so soon. I must have felt it in my bones. I knew the blogging world had something to offer me and I knew I had to clear my life and schedule to be able to receive that offering.
When I made the decision to leave the program I was pretty devastated because I felt like I was leaving my dreams and ambitions of novel writing behind. I didn’t imagine at all that I would be writing a book just a mere two months after leaving the program.
Diving into your MFA experience at The New School, as your writing partner, I was absolutely devastated when you told me you were leaving.
That makes two of us. Our sob session at Feel Food [In Greenwich Village] when I broke the news to you will forever remain in my memory as the hardest part of leaving the program. [Writer’s note: I cried a lot.]
Walk our readers through your decision to leave the program. How did it come about? Was it a difficult choice?
Leaving the MFA program was an incredibly difficult choice. I went from struggling to balance my blog and my fiction writing to semi-neglecting my schoolwork to completely avoiding writing fiction at all costs. It was very difficult for me to switch back and forth between the conversational and immediately interactive nature of blogging and the intensely solitary and long-winded novel writing process.
That’s a great point. Blogging is a communal experience while writing a novel is a very solitary one.
There is nothing wrong with that solitary process, by the way. In a way I still thrive off of the self-intimacy of writing fiction, but going back and forth between the two in a single day or even a single week was not in the cards for me.
So this is what ultimately led to your decision to leave?
Eventually I felt that it would be impossible to grow the blog in the way I wanted to if I was working on a thesis for my MFA.
Did you have any hesitations leaving midway through your program?
The main reason I wanted to stay in the program was because I was going to miss my writing partner (cough cough, Paul).
Also, the time and money I had put into it played a huge factor, and also the fact that the program is two years and I had already completed one year of it. I was 50% finished and only had one semester of classes left before I would be able to solely work on my thesis. I had also never had the option to leave school before, since dipping out of high school or college was not an acceptable thing to do. The thought of leaving midway seemed foreign and so uncharacteristic.
Had you always wanted to get an MFA?
Getting an MFA in fiction was something I had made up my mind I was going to do back when I was in middle school. It was a lifelong dream. Giving that up and opening myself to the idea of changing paths scared the living daylights out of me. However, that was another thing I needed though, looking back. To be totally scared and unprepared.
You mentioned money before and that’s a major factor every writer considers when deciding to attend an MFA program.
I invested a lot of money in that first year. If I were to finish the degree and go on to blog full-time versus writing fiction or working in the literary world as I had originally planned, I would be wasting even more money on that second year. I learned a lot, had the opportunity to work with writers I admire, wrote several hundred pages of a novel I fully intend on returning to when the time is right.
Do you still get together with other writers and talk about your work?
Unfortunately no, I haven’t been. I haven’t looked at my fiction since I left the program…well, even before I left the program to be honest. I miss workshopping but not enough to get re-involved right now.
Do bloggers ever get together for writing sessions?
I do get together with other bloggers and we bounce ideas off of each other and come up with lots of fun collaborations. I interview writers and bloggers that I admire and exchange ideas with them for projects and events. I am more immersed in the health blogging world than I am in the literary world at the moment, and for me that has been very enjoyable.
Did you think there was anything lacking from your MFA experience?
I don’t know if it was something lacking or if I just realized over the course of the year that I didn’t need to finish my MFA to fulfill my personal writing aspirations. I have a lot of respect for my awesome classmates who are finishing the program, and I wish that I could say that I had more than half of a Masters, but I learned while I was there that it wasn’t for me. I didn’t feel the strong connection to the program like I had hoped to, and I didn’t feel the extra burst of inspiration I always imagined would come along with an MFA program.
I really enjoyed my workshop classes, but the seminar classes that I took didn’t excite me and, to be honest, I dreaded going to them. If the seminars I took had been more focused on writing and trying to emulate the styles we were reading about, I would have found them a lot more beneficial and enjoyable. I know that’s just my own take on it, but I had illusions of what the program would be that didn’t carry through.
What do you think is the greatest lesson you took from your time in the program?
Write, write and write. If you’re feeling inspired, write. If you’re not feeling inspired, write anyway. I learned how important consistency is, and how helpful it can be to have a dedicated and talented set of eyes dissect your work (before it’s even close to being done).
Last question, if you could do it all over again would you still have applied?
Yes, one hundred percent. I would have applied and I would have left. That year in graduate school was something I needed in order to figure out who I was, where I wanted to be and what I was looking for.
Jordan Younger is a yoga junkie, passionate writer, fitness freak, founder of TBV Apparel, & striver of balance. Her first book, Breaking Vegan, is forthcoming from Fairwinds Press. For my information visit her blog, The Balanced Blonde.
Paul Florez is currently receiving his MFA in fiction at The New School. He is a contributor for the Huffington Post and his work has also appeared in Slice Magazine, Queerty, and The Advocate. He’s also written for Jordan’s blog. You can follow his misadventures over on twitter @mrpaulflorez.